When a death occurs in the family, whether it be at home or in hospital, there are many unfamiliar tasks which must be carried out. At such time, when natural grief and, perhaps anxiety weigh heavily upon you, you will need to rely on the advice and guidance of professional men and women. One of those with whom you will undoubtedly deal is the Funeral Director. This information has been prepared to help answer some of the questions which may arise.
What to do when death occurs
Contact your Doctor (or the Doctor on duty) who will certify that death has taken place and, if he or she is able, issue a Death Certificate. These days most families prefer that the deceased is conveyed to the Funeral Director's Chapel of Rest at an early stage and this can be arranged at any time of the day or night by telephone.
AT A NURSING OR RESIDENTIAL HOME
The above procedure is likely to have been carried out, with your permission, by the Matron or Warden who will advise of the whereabouts of the Death Certificate.
The nursing staff or the appropriate officer will advise you when and from where to collect the Death Certificate.
In all cases the Death Certificate must be taken to the registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for official record purposes.
Jewellery and personal effects
It is important that any instructions left by the
deceased with regard to personal effects (e.g. Wedding Ring) are strictly
observed. The family too may have specific wishes in this respect. If such
items are to be removed the Funeral Director should be instructed and the
jewellery and/or clothing collected prior to the funeral taking place.
It should be borne in mind that other members of the family may have different views with regard to these items, and in some cases it is advisable for the jewellery to remain on the deceased.
Administration of the estate
Before the estate can be realised and distributed amongst the beneficiaries a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration will probably be required. The simplest procedure to ensure that this is carried out correctly is to instruct a Solicitor or Bank to act for you. This will relieve you of the worries and visits required to complete these formalities. Alternatively, application may be made personally to the District Probate Registry Office, 4th Floor, Cromwell House, Andover Road, Winchester, SO23 7EW.
Probate is required where the deceased has left a Will. The Will has to be 'proved' before the Probate Registry of the High Court. Upon completion the executors named in the Will are able to administer the estate.
Letters of Administration are required where the deceased has not left a Will. The deceased is said to have died Intestate and the question then arises as to who should administer the estate. Here again the application has to be made to the Court, usually by the Next of Kin. The Court, when satisfied as to the claim of the applicant, issues a document (Letters of Administration) appointing the applicant as Administrator of the estate.
Where the estate is small, it is sometimes possible for the assets to be released without making application for such a Grant. The Probate Registry office will advise you of the maximum asset value applicable in such circumstances.
Consulting a solicitor or bank
In most circumstances it is advisable to consult a Solicitor or Bank. This need not necessarily involve you in great expense and it will ensure that all the formalities required under the law are duly completed.
Apart from the interpretation of the Will itself and the distribution of the assets to the beneficiaries nominated in the Will (or under the Intestacy rules if there be no Will) a Solicitor will administer the estate and obtain the appropriate grant. He will require a Death Certificate and any or all of the following: Share certificates, Savings Certificates, Premium Bonds, Deeds, Insurance Policies.
He will also require details of any debts that may be outstanding and will deal with these on your behalf. Should you find yourself in temporary difficulties with regard to finance he can usually make arrangements for you to draw sufficient funds to meet your immediate needs.
If the deceased was the owner of freehold or leasehold property it may be necessary for your Solicitor or the Bank to arrange for it to be valued for probate or, of course, for it to be sold in order to realise the assets. (No valuation is normally required where the house passes to the surviving spouse). Arrangements would be made for the valuation to be carried out by a Chartered Surveyor who would be in a position to settle the probate value with the Inland Revenue Valuation Department. They will also arrange for a qualified Chattels Valuer to value the contents. This would particularly be necessary where there are items such as antique furniture or jewellery since such items may have appreciated considerably in value in recent years and it is important that they be correctly and accurately identified.
There are a number of reasons why a death may have to be referred to the Coroner and under such circumstances special procedures may be necessary. However, these should not give cause for any undue alarm.
The Coroner is a judicial office, quite independent of local & central government, who is required to act, in accordance with certain laws. Any sudden or unexplained death must be reported to the Coroner whose duty it is to ascertain the cause of death and to investigate any unusual circumstances.
Sometimes the Coroner may be able to ascertain by simple enquiry whether the death was due to natural causes and that there is a Doctor able to issue a death certificate. The death is then registered adopting the procedures shown under registration. If this is not the case the Coroner may require a post-mortem examination.
This will usually indicate that the death was due to natural causes and in such cases there is no inquest. The Coroner sends a certificate to the Registrar so that the death can be registered. If cremation has been selected the Coroner will issue an additional certificate to the Funeral Director.
If the death is not due to natural causes (for example, a traffic accident) the Coroner is obliged to hold an INQUEST. This is an enquiry & its purpose is to determine: (1) The identity of the deceased. (2) When, where & how the death occurred and (3) The cause of death.
Following the Inquest the Coroner will issue a certificate for burial or cremation. In certain cases he may adjourn the Inquest after having established the above mentioned facts. A certificate will then be issued to enable the funeral to take place and the Inquest reopened, sometimes after several weeks, in order to gather relevant information relating to the death.
Your Funeral Director is fully conversant with the likely causes for referral to the Coroner and will be able to advise you of any action that may be necessary.